Painless Polenta

Now in Season Fall 2015 Issue

Painless Polenta

By Terese Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia 0

AH, AUTUMN, the back-to-the-oven season. Time to set the dial, grease the pans, mix a batter. Time to bake up a batch of warm and fragrant…polenta?

Famous for its creaminess, polenta traditionally gets that way by being stirred—and stirred and stirred and stirred—in a pot atop the stove. But there’s another way, the oven method. You combine cornmeal, liquid and salt in a baking dish and set it to bake. That’s all it takes. Forty or so minutes later, without any hand cramps or attention whatsoever, the polenta is smooth, fully cooked and ready for embellishments.

Seriously.

The liquid can be water, milk, vegetable or meat stock, or any combination therein. For its clean, straightforward corn taste, polenta made with plain water is my go-to choice, but when richness is called for, I use all or part milk. When I want savory, umami depth, I opt for chicken stock.

The ratio of liquid to cornmeal can vary, too. For very firm polenta—the kind you can cool, cut into shapes and grill or sauté—use three parts liquid to one part cornmeal. For loose, porridge-like polenta, go five to one. Four parts liquid to one part cornmeal—my usual—yields a soft, giving, middle-of-the road texture.

Plain polenta makes a simple side dish, but for a fallworthy main course, top it with end-of -season tomato sauce, roasted root vegetables or even stew. Polenta is one of those dishes you can vary endlessly. With hardly a stir.


Polenta Recipes:

Basic Polenta

Polenta with Glazed Baby Onions, Kale and Blue Cheese (pictured above)

Polenta with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon and Roasted Red Pepper

Polenta and Pork with Sage Mushroom Cream (pictured in the header image)

Cranberry Beans & Bison Bacon with Grilled Polenta (from issue no. 14, fall 2013)

Polenta with Greens, Caramelized Onions and Asiago (from issue no. 11, winter 2011)

Terese Allen has written scores of books and articles about the foodways of Wisconsin, including the award-winning titles "The Flavor of Wisconsin" and "The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids." She is co-founder and a longtime leader of the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW). If you want to get Terese going, just ask her the best way to fix an old-fashioned, how to hunt for morels, or why fish fries thrive in our state.

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